How goes it, jags? I'm sure yinz are all preparing for a night of unspeakable debauchery to ring in 2012, a year destined for excessive drinking -- for me, at least -- and a bunch of gullible, half-witted nimrods bemoaning the end of the world as per the Mayan calendar. You know, that group of people who can allegedly foresee the end of civilization, but can't see the Spanish coming with their disease-infested blankets and carnivorous imperialist politics.
Anyway, if yinz have been keeping up, yinz are probably wondering the same thing Chuck K is -- namely, what in the love of fuck is wrong with the Penguins? After beating NHL powerhouses Winnipeg and Carolina (I'd have written that in the 'ironic' font if it existed) , the Pens showed a gaping hole bigger than Madonna's in their game against the Flyers and that jagoff Jagr, who played like his life depended on it probably because it did due to, one can only presume, a previous encounter gone awry with a crooked bookie in Atlantic City.
Well, blaming injuries is the new black in the world of Pittsburgh sports media, and far be it from me to change that trend. I may single-handedly guide the torrents of cheap domestic beer sales around here, but you crush a thirty pack of Iron and blurt out "fuck" 43 times in a press conference and all of a sudden they revoke your press pass.
The problem here, though, is that people seem to be perseverating on the wrong source of the Penguins' woes. It's easy to say, "Hey, they're still without Crosby," and call it day. But I know yinz come here for much more precise and thoughtful sports insight than that, and I don't plan to fail yinz unless the Penguins force me to thrust myself into a drunken stupor beyond any hope of recuperation within the next 48 hours.
Indeed, an injury is contributing to the deepest roots of the Penguins' vomit-inducing play of late, and despite holding supreme control in all facets of our city, those fucks at UPMC have yet to do a goddamn thing to solve it. The man in desperate need of a Six Million Dollar Man-style repair is none other than Kris Letang.
I don't have the exact numbers on hand, but the Penguins still have a respectable record without Crosby in the lineup, "respectable" being more than I can say for my ability to stay sober after the watching the Penguins for the past month or so. Sans Letang, however, the Pens have 7 wins and 6 losses, and threatening to notch a seventh in their current abomination against the Devils.
In that time, not counting this shitfest going as I type, the Penguins have conceded 38 goals in 13 games, coming in at just under three per game, which is significantly higher than the 1.8 or so that Fleury was sporting during the first portion of the season. Statistics only achieve so much, though, and their a security blanket for baseball sabremetrics fanatics and fucks who can't just spit the truth. So here's some more reasons Kris Letang and not Sidney Crosby is the biggest missing piece for the Penguins.
1) Motherfucker Is Mean
Listen, yinz could nitpick at the Pens play all day, but simply put, as a defensive unit, they are playing like bigger bitches than your little nephew after you mercilessly beat him at his new Wii game 17 times in a row. Yelling a variation of, "In your face! You should've never been born," after each victory probably didn't help, either.
My indiscretions against my own family aside, the Penguins have been inconsistent at clearing the front of their own net and handling their own zone. As great as it is to have Zybanek Michalek ask opposing forwards where to get the best local cuisine and Ben Lovejoy dispense useful ways to save on your electric bill, the Pens could use a French-Canadian son of a bitch to greet the opposition with a lumberjack hack of the carbon fiber in his hands. Letang will provide that, and the couple of penalties he'll take in the process will be worth it when the other team won't even get close to Fleury for fear of Letang's assault with a deadly weapon.
2) Motherfucker Can Skate, Too
On top of crunching jags around the net, Letang skates better than any other Pens defender, and rivals Crosby as the best overall skater on the team. I've been pumped with Simon Depres's play so far, and I like how Engelland and Lovejoy have gotten better at carrying the puck. The bottom line is, though, that Letang can strike the fear of God in the other team as he charges up the ice with his ability to cut straight to the net and get involved in the play.
His pinching in the offensive zone, ability to distribute the puck -- unlike Jordan Staal, who just handed the Devils an empty netter -- and his rushes up ice all contribute to the Pens' offensive tempo. And even if he can't put it into the net himself, he opens up space for Malkin, Neal, Kunitz, Kennedy, etc. to get the net and make plays. Having this influence from defense can be even more vital, as it stacks the numbers against the opposing defenders when in possession of the puck.
3) Have You Seen This Power Play? Fuckin' Christ
All those offensive skills I listed for yinz above can go into invigorating the Pens painful-looking power play as well. Props on Niskanen for much improved play this season, but I think I've had just about enough of him and Michalek limp-wristing a predictable wrister at the net or chipping the puck to nobody in a panic.
Though Letang ain't gonna win the accuracy contest any time soon, his howitzer from the point worries other teams enough that they will commit to him, both opening space on the other end of the ice for Malkin, or whoever is on the half wall, and stretching the other team's defensive shape because they are afraid of letting him put one through to net.
4) Alexandre Picard Won't Have to Play
I mean, yeah. This one is pretty self-explanatory.
So, jags, that's why yinz need worry less about Crosby coming back and petition your local UPMC to start finding some dead drifters and using their brains to beat concussions and get Letang back on track -- I don't care about Pronger, Skinner, or any of those fucks in the NHL. If he can do anti-drinking and driving commercials, he should sure as hell be able to get his ass on the ice.